From CIEMAS to Costa Rica: Duke designs study abroad program for Pratt students

<p>The new program will include field trips to measure volcanic eruptions and identify different types of bird species.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p>

The new program will include field trips to measure volcanic eruptions and identify different types of bird species.  

A new study-abroad program this year gives Pratt School of Engineering students the opportunity to explore volcanos and observe birds in Costa Rica while still completing graduation requirements.

The University’s new Pratt in Costa Rica program—specially designed for students majoring in biomedical engineering or electrical and computer engineering—is a six-week summer homestay based in San Jose, Costa Rica. Students are required to take a Spanish language course and can choose to take either a bioengineering or a math course.

“Pratt students typically have a rough time doing study-abroad because of a very specific set of engineering course requirements,” said Libby Bucholz, a lecturer in the department of biomedical engineering. “But we believe strongly that studying abroad is important for engineers, and so it’s long been in the works that we develop a Duke program for them.”

Bucholz added that developing the program was challenging because scientific and quantitative studies are generally not culture-specific, unlike arts and humanities courses. 

“It makes sense to go to Venice if you want to study Italian art, to actually see it, but calculus and integrals are still going to be calculus and integrals whether you are in Italy or in Japan,” she said.

The new program manages to combine engineering courses with the local environment through two planned field trips. Students will measure the seismic activity and frequency of volcano eruptions as well as identify bird species by analyzing time-frequency plots in their songs, Bucholz explained.

Many Pratt students said they were excited for the launch of the new program.

“Many of us want to do study abroad, but it is difficult to find a program that is tailored to an engineering curriculum,” sophomore Helen Tan said. “This sounds like a great program.”

Junior Arjun Desai said that the program will give students space for experimentation and the opportunity to see how local engineers work at adapting to the environment in Costa Rica.

“Engineering for the sake of engineering is great, but to add a cultural perspective that’s not just Europe or the U.S. or Australia, but structured in a Central American country is even greater,” Desai said.

He added that he would love to see more study abroad opportunities offered for other majors in Pratt. 

The ideal students for this program are rising sophomores who have completed the prerequisite introductory courses, but some students will be rising juniors, said Bob Malkin, professor of the practice of biomedical engineering and one of the designers of the program.

Although the program is primarily for engineering students, non-Pratt students are allowed to apply, Bucholz said. 

Malkin said student reactions have been very positive so far and that there is a high demand for this type of program. 

He added that in a preliminary survey conducted last year among first-year Pratt students, more than 100 respondents said they were interested in doing a study-abroad program. In the past, almost one-third of Pratt students have studied abroad through other programs such as Duke in Berlin, he noted. 

“Most engineering teams nowadays are multinational,” Malkin said. “Having global experiences and global perspectives are very important to engineer students just as they are important for many other majors across campus.”


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